Obedience to normalcy
is what lobotomies are for.

Someone sent me a link to Tricycle magazine’s “Daily Dharma” for February 3-10. My first response, when I get such links from the Buddhist glossies is to hit delete. Ready for some procrastination, though, I read this one.  The advice distilled in this “Wisdom Collection” confirmed a growing suspicion of mine:   meditation/mindfulness in present-day North America is hardly distinguishable from lobotomy.

Consider this. Among the “good results” of a prefrontal lobotomy are calming of obsessive-compulsive states; reduction of chronic anxiety; lessening of recursive introspection; amelioration of affective disorders; reduction of  feelings of inadequacy and self-consciousness; reduction of emotional tension. Sound familiar? Most significantly—Kabot-Zinnites take note!— prefrontal lobotomy

has also been used successfully to control pain secondary to organic lesions. In this case, the tendency has been to employ unilateral lobotomy, because of the evidence that a lobotomy extensive enough to reduce psychotic symptoms is not required to control pain. (My source for all of this is Leland E. Hinsie and Robert Jean Campbell [1970]. Psychiatric Dictionary. Fourth Edition. Oxford University Press.).

I am not saying that meditation has similar effects as a lobotomy. How could I? Pardon the pun, but “meditation” is nowhere near as cut and dry as “lobotomy.”  My point is that the contemporary western rhetoric of meditation/mindfulness suggests a similarity. In case you think my comparison of the two is overly cute (as opposed to merely cute), here are some pearls of wisdom from Tricycle’s “Daily Dharma.”

In “Finding Sense in Sensation,”  S. N. Goenka recommends that we attend to the “arising and passing” of sensation. Why? Well, precisely not to feel life more acutely; precisely not to be more alive to the rich, intricate textures of human existence. No. The “sense in sensation” is to “understand its flux,” in order to  “learn not to react to it.” Fuck that is my reaction.

Goenka’s is a rhetoric of control, of resisting the demands of unruly, hence dangerous, sensation. It repeats the tendency of contemporary x-buddhistic meditation rhetoric to condemn strong emotions. In employing such rhetoric, x-buddhism’s roots  show; and they have the fleshless hue of ascetic, world-renouncing moralizing.

Allan Lokos’s “Daily Dharma” of February 4 continues in this vein. The wisdom he imparts involves, as his title states, “Cooling Emotional Fires.” “Anger, annoyance, and impatience deplete energy,” he teaches.

So, what should we do to tame these quite natural and often exceptionally useful human responses to our environment? Well, first of all, we should just be patient, for “Patient effort strengthens our resources.” I find such tired x-buddhistic clichés exceedingly annoying. I suppose the protesters on Tahrir Square finally did, too. And they, alas, would not have cared for Lokos’s advice on what to do with their impatience and anger:

We need to practice cooling emotional fires and alleviating fierce disruptions from our lives.

Again, a crypto-ascetic rhetoric of human denial, emotional repression, and general lassitude. We don’t need no water—let the motherfucker burn is the  fierce disruption from my life.

Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein reinforce this emotion-phobic rhetoric of x-buddhism in their February 6 “Daily Dharma,” titled “Cutting Through Anger.” Their use of the word “cutting” also, of course, unintentionally creates a parallel to lobotomy. Like 1940s-era doctors, they, too, want to cut off vibrant, pulsing expressions of human being in the name of some utopian, and anodyne, “well-being.” They call their lobotomy “mental noting:”

 Mental noting takes us in a very different direction from getting lost in a story: “Oh, this anger is so miserable; I am such a terrible person because I’m always angry; this is just how I will always be,” and so on. Instead, we simply say to ourselves, “anger, anger”—and cut through all of that elaboration, the story, the judgment, the interpretation.

Sharon and Joseph, I have a question for you: how will you cut through all of that elaboration, through that story, through that judgment and that interpretation? Or are you two liberated from story?

Bullshit bullshit is the miserable story I’m getting lost in right now.

“Mental noting” is just another strategy of real-world renunciation; it is just more crypto-ascetic x-buddhistic rhetoric. Yet, no sooner do I say this than Clark Strand contradicts me in the very next “Daily Dharma,” titled “Living with the World.”

 We are not called upon as Buddhists to deny the world, and certainly not to escape from it. We are called to live with it, and to make our peace with all that is.

Well, wait a minute; I take that back. Making “our peace with all that is” is not the same thing as “living with the world.” In fact, it is just the opposite. It is not living at all. It is merely operating under the yoke of vacuous spiritualized prescription. Strand’s “called upon/to” is about as close to Althusser’s “hailing/interpellation” as I’ve heard an x-buddhist come to admitting the hidden ideological claws of x-buddhism.

Again, this is a rhetoric of renunciation that veers toward the human-hostile. Do you want the promise of Buddhism to manifest in your life? Then you must make peace with all that is, goddamit! Oh, yes, that promise. Let us bow our heads:

The world of worries we wish to escape from in the beginning of Buddhist practice is found to be enlightenment itself in the end.

The “world of worries” is not fucking “enlightenment.” It is the world of worries.

We continue to get lobotomy-like results and instruction in Jason Siff‘s “Gentle Meditation” (“try approaching [meditation practices] in a softer, gentler manner,” etc.), in Peter Doobinin‘s employment of the “just do it” rhetoric (“You’re just walking. This is a good instruction: just walk…sense the joy in simply walking”). Brad Warner tops it all off by reminding us that “there are no magic solutions.” Ironically, though, he sprinkles fairy dust on his “no magic” by claiming for it the “one lesson that runs through pretty much every Buddhist tradition.”

In “Axiomatic Heresy,” Ray Brassier comments that François Laruelle sees “a philosopher” as a person who never says what he is really doing, and never does what he is really saying. Can we say the same for those x-buddhists who prescribe, and subscribe to, the formulations of contemporary x-buddhist meditation/mindfulness rhetoric? In what sense could any of them really be doing what they claim here? And do you really believe that they are honestly saying what they do do? What would other guests at the Great Feast of Knowledge—biology, physics, gastronomy, literature, political science—have to say about their claims?

“Obedience to normalcy is what lobotomies are for,” barks Steve Ignorant. Is that what meditation/mindfulness is for, too? Reading Tricycle’s “Daily Dharma,” you really have to wonder.

Tricycallergic? Yea. Try this instead:

Or this:

Tricycle’s “Wisdom Collection.”

Leland E. Hinsie and Robert Jean Campbell (1970). Psychiatric Dictionary. Fourth Edition. Oxford University Press (on Google books).

128 Comment on “Mindful Lobotomy

  1. Pingback: Weisheit muss selbst entwickeln « Säkularer Buddhismus

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